Last revised 2/15/97 by Joe Ward 4/15/92 - How does a lava lamp work?

How does a lava lamp work?

(Lansing State Journal, April 15, 1992)

Question submitted by Tom Crantzasks.

Since the lava lamp is not one of your usual textbook case inventions, investigators from Science Theatre went right to the source on this one: Lava Simplex International.

This company, which makes the lava lamp, said that they would have been more than happy to tell us all about the inner workings of their invention, except for one problem: It's a secret.

Well, sort of.

They did tell us that the inside of the lamp is made of two major parts; a liquid part and a solid part that are heated from a light bulb in the base. Both parts are made of very secret chemicals that are non-toxic.

So, if you break your lava lamp, the insides are completely harmless, although the representative from Lava Simplex does not encourage you to drink the stuff.

The workings of the lava lamp have to do with a previous Ask Science Theatre article on why things float.

Again, the inside of the lamp is made up of liquid and solid. The light bulb at the base serves to give the lamp its glow and to heat the liquid inside. The liquid is heated from the bottom and warms the waxy solid. As the solid heats up, its density changes and it rises or oozes to the top.

The liquid at the top is not as hot and the solid cools down. As it cools, its density changes again, and it falls to the bottom. While at the bottom, it heats up again and the process starts all over.

Science Theatre would like to thank Jennifer Discenna and Dr. P. Parker for contributing to this article.

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